AHU: Because the beer won’t brew itself

Originally published in The McGill Daily on January 31, 2008. Keep reading for a homebrew recipe and instructions on how to make your own Brown Ale.

graphic by David Pullmer

graphic by David Pullmer

Forty-five years after the repeal of Prohibition in America – that 13-year federal black hole of fun and good spirits – the vestiges of this legislation forbade the brewing of beer by private citizens. But in 1978, the U.S. Congress passed a bill reinstating homebrewing into the public sphere, which then-president Jimmy Carter later ratified. This bill resulted in a flurry of activity in the craft brewing world. It provided an entry point for anyone to turn a hobby into a career, and many of these professional brewers began with just a pot and a big spoon.

Homebrewing is, by nature and practice, a laid-back pastime. The varied levels of involvement – from opening a pre-prepared beer kit to mashing your own grain – make brewing accessible to anyone interested in the craft. The equipment required for basic brewing is relatively inexpensive: a large pot for brewing, a fermenter, bottles, tubing to transfer the beer, and small instruments (like a thermometer and bottle capper), will run you about $100 and are infinitely reusable.

Plus, brewing your own beer will save you money when drinking. A 19-litre batch – roughly 50 341 ml bottles – can cost somewhere between $30 and $50, making those $8 six-packs of Boréale seem exorbitant.

Whenever I plan on brewing a batch, I end up with a crowd of interested friends observing the act. While I welcome the help – many hands do make light work – I encourage those interested to begin brewing their own beer and take full reign of the creative process of brewing. To make it easier, here’s a simple recipe and basic instructions to create your first brew.

Brown Ale is a British style known for a complex and nutty body due to large and varied amounts of malt. There is little bitterness because there are few hops and most drinkers will recognize the style from the famous Newcastle Brown Ale from northern England. A basic recipe is as follows:

2.2 kg Liquid Malt Extract
225 g light brown sugar

Specialty Malts:
900 g English 2-row malt
110 g chocolate malt
110 g black patent malt

Hops:
1 oz Golding (boiling)
½ oz Cascade (finishing)

Yeast:
White Labs WLP002 (British Ale)

¾ cup corn sugar (conditioning)

Homebrewing has three main steps: brewing, fermenting, and bottle conditioning. The most important thing to remember before brewing is that bacteria growth will ruin the beer, and can occur at any of these steps; keeping the operation sanitary is your first priority. Homebrew shops sell everything you need to keep your beer pure. The very first step is to sanitize everything the beer will touch.

Temperature is the next factor to keep in mind; you must steep the specialty malts at a specific heat to activate the correct enzymes. Heat three gallons of water in a large pot to 66 degrees C and steep the specialty grains in a cheesecloth bag, like tea, for 30 minutes. Remove the grains, draining them into the pot, add the malt extracts and sugar, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the Golding hops and set a timer for 60 minutes. Stir regularly to keep the “wort” from boiling over. Ten minutes before the timer goes off, add the Cascade hops.

After 60 minutes, remove the pot from the heat. At this point you must cool the wort so that the yeast doesn’t die when it is added. However, from this point on, the wort is susceptible to bacterial contamination. One good method of cooling is adding 7.6 litres of cold water to the fermenter before straining the hops from the wort and pouring it in. Then top off the fermenter with water to make 19 litres of unfermented beer.

Once the temperature has fallen below 27 degrees, add the yeast and seal the fermenter with an airlock. You will notice a lot of activity in the beer as it is fermenting; when you notice this activity diminishing – after perhaps 10 days – you will know it’s time to bottle.

Boil 2 cups water with ¾ cup corn sugar and add it to the beer before siphoning with sanitized tubing into sanitized bottles. This will give the yeast enough sugar to carbonate the beer in the bottles, hence the term “bottle conditioning.” Sanitize bottle caps by boiling them for 5 minutes and cap your bottles. Let condition for 2 weeks and then crack open your first bottle of homebrew. Cheers!

All the above equipment and ingredients are available at La Chope à Barrock (4709 St. Dominique). For any unanswered questions ask their knoweldgeable staff, or email Joseph at allhoppedup@gmail.com.

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